Day 31 of the partial government shutdown has come and something about it feels normal. We’ve been seeing the same talking points on the news for a month now. Wall funding, crime, federal employees not receiving their paychecks, these are the topics that have dominated the news cycles. But within more niche groups the talking points have involved different government shutdown topics: National Parks, fisheries, and local recreation-dependent economies.
Throughout the past 31 days, National Parks have endured a turbulent battle to operate as effectively as possible, despite a weakened National Park Service workforce and uncertainty over when the government will re-open. National Parks around the country hoped to remain open and accessible to the public this winter. However, the shutdown resulted in furloughs and lack of funding for the National Park Service, leaving many National Parks in disarray and in certain extreme cases destroyed.
Visually, the effects of the government shutdown for National Parks have been large. Images of overflowing trash cans and expansive litter have made their way into newspapers throughout the country, inciting outrage and volunteer campaigns. The limited National Park Service workforce has translated into less employees for maintaining the millions of acres of National Parks. In addition, to trash and litter, certain National Parks have become relatively unmonitored. This has led to general irresponsible activities and destruction within various National Parks. Examples include, but are not limited to, illegal off-roading and camping, which have long-lasting negative effects on certain vulnerable soil types.
Some National Parks have felt more reckless acts than others. The reports out of Joshua Tree National Park are astonishing. Vandalism throughout the park has been documented. The trees Joshua Tree are known for, the yucca palms, are being destroyed by unconscionable park-goers, because of the limited National Park Service staff.
The overall unlawfulness has been felt and documented in National Parks all around the country, but the negative effects go further. Fisheries are also feeling the effects of the partially shutdown government. The shutdown has left much of the National Marine Fisheries Service closed, which is having far-reaching consequences on commercial and recreational fishing. For example, Idaho’s steelhead season is in question, again. This past December, an agreement was forged between disputing parties, which allowed Idaho’s steelhead season to remain open. However, without an approved permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service, which remains understaffed because of the shutdown, the future of Idaho’s season is again in question.
The shutdown has also placed one of the longest National Park monitoring studies on hold. The Shenandoah Watershed Study, which has operated since 1979, studies the effects of acid rain, biogeochemical cycles, native trout populations, and more in streams throughout the National Park. However, since the shutdown, the study has not collected data for more than three weeks (according to an article published on January 8, 2019), which is the longest gap in data throughout the study’s history.
Certain local economies are also hurting, due to the shutdown’s effects on National Parks. According to the National Park Conservation Association, “on an average day in January, 425,000 park visitors spend $20 million in nearby communities”. However, much of this revenue is now being lost, harming local communities and businesses–not to mention the estimated 16,000 National Park Service employees currently furloughed. For communities surrounding Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Denver Post reported that local businesses have experienced noticeable drops in sales and tourism.
It is not clear when the longest government shutdown in United States history will come to an end, but one thing is for certain: the harmful effects on our National Parks are being felt. Hopefully, bipartisan efforts can find a solution, because this partisan standoff over wall funding is having devastating consequences on many of our Nation’s remaining wild and preserved lands.
Feature photo credit: Tanner Smith
This article was written by Will Poston. He covers news and conservation related stories for The Flylords. His writing and views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Flylords.